"What I tell my girls is, health is important," the star says about her TZONE Foundation program, which helps mentor young girls
Credit: Mayer RCF/Splash News Online

Tyra Banks has spoken openly about her battles with weight, body image and self-esteem – and learned there’s no easy cure for the body blues.

The America’s Next Top Model creator told PEOPLE Tuesday at her TZONE Foundation Flawsome Ball in New York City that, despite understanding how it feels to be considered too fat and too thin, blind support for teens struggling with their weight isn’t the answer.

“I’ve had some of my girls talk about their weight, and I actually talk to them honestly about it,” says Banks, who mentors teens through her foundation and who, at the Flawsome Ball, helped to drive up bids during a fundraising auction.

“There’s one thing you can do, which is say, ‘You’re great, you’re great, you’re great,’ which makes them feel good in that moment when you’re talking to them,” Tyra explains.

Then it goes away.

“They go back in the crazy world of attacking, or looking in the mirror and not feeling good about themselves,” Banks explains. “So what I tell my girls is, health is important, and we need to get our shapes in shape – not looking like somebody else.”

The idea, she says, is to balance health with reality. “A size 16 can be the best shape for you, and you can be healthy. I have a friend who’s a plus-size model, and she’s a size 18. She is fierce, she can bench-press, she can run longer than me. She has not an ounce of cellulite. My butt looks like an orange peel.”

The answer for parents? Try showing a girl that “her that her body is beautiful, show her images of girls who are size 16 and healthy. But when you just say, ‘You’re great,’ it doesn’t last.”